Sci-Fi network (SyFy?) once had the market cornered on good science fiction TV series. That was before they decided to rely on wrestling and straight-to-video movies to fill their programming slate. These days, everyone from AMC to MTV to the premium channels has some sci-fi or fantasy in their lineup – some good, some not. So it’s nice to see something worth recommending on Sci-Fi/SyFy.
The Expanse, based on the novels by James SA Corey, takes place in a near future in which humanity has expanded into our solar system to colonize Mars and mine the asteroid belt. There’s no faster-than-light travel, and one of the central tenets of the books is a realistic approach to the science and challenges of space travel and survival.
The independent governments of Mars and Earth eye each other in an uneasy Cold War-like co-existence. The colonists of the asteroid belt (belters) are agitating for independence amidst tough, often brutal conditions. It’s a setting ripe for political intrigue and sub-plotting.
Of course any good series needs strong and interesting characters. The Expanse fits the bill here. Thomas Jane stars as the enigmatic belter detective, Miller. Steven Strait has the other lead as Jame Holden, semi-idealist freighter officer. If you’re a fan of the books, you’ll enjoy performances of other key characters: Dominique Tipper as Naomi, Shoreh Aghdashloo as Avasarala, and Chad Coleman (most recently in The Walking Dead) as Fred Johnson. It’s well-cast, and you’ll see many other familiar character actors from past sci-fi movies and shows popping up.
The effects and set design on the series are first-rate and really add to the unfolding plot and atmosphere. The sense of ingenuity needed to place humans in such inhospitable environs, the claustrophobia of the outposts and space-ships against the vastness of distance – all well conceived with the visuals. It’s a much different sense than with your Star Trek or Star Wars; certainly darker with an eye towards scientific realism.
The story is multi-faceted and complex, but it begins with a good mystery and some implied conspiracy. Miller has a new case – he’s trying to locate a missing woman who happens to be the daughter of an ultra-rich industrialist and involved in some fairly volatile politics. Meanwhile, Holden and his crewmates run afoul of mysterious unmarked spaceships en route to a belter base. This clash sets off a political standoff between the Earth and Mars governments and escalates the belter colonists’ calls for independence.
As someone who read the three novels, I was very curious in how the TV version would approach the big plot points and how the pacing would unfold. It’s a similar question with other successful franchises like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. So far, five episodes in, they’re moving at a deliberate pace. Surely, SyFy is hoping for the ratings and longevity of those other series. It seems like a good move though, because this provides plenty of time and space to develop the many characters and sub-plots. This was something I enjoyed about the books, and the Mrs. (who hasn’t read the books) has also appreciated this approach.
Science Fiction fans should definitely give The Expanse a look. Add it to your queue, stream it online, set your DVR… And even if you’re not necessarily a sci-fi person, you may like this episodic character-driven series.
If you’re interested in the first book on which this series is based, see the link below. But fair warning, the review will contain spoilers for the TV show.